Time management rings alarm bell

That’s men


I once brought an alarm clock to a hayfield. I did this ridiculous thing during the school holidays when I was condemned to long hours of making hay with my father.

If you have never done it, a day spent making hay must seem romantic – the unhurried turning of the grass with rake and hayfork as the shadows lengthen across the field and all that.

For me it was an experience of unutterable boredom. Hours spent working in the field with a two-pronged hayfork seemed like a wasted eternity which could be better spent reading a book or wandering off into my own imagination.

To make matters worse, I had got it into my head that a working day ended at six o’clock in the evening. When that blessed hour came, you were supposed to put down your implements and resume living.

As far as my father was concerned, the existence of a thing called six o’clock was irrelevant when you were making hay and the sun was shining. And so we would work on and on with my impatience growing by the minute until he finally decreed that the day’s work was over.

One morning I thought of a solution. I would take the alarm clock from beside my bed and set it to go off at six o’clock thus alerting my father to the fact that it was time to go home.

Just before six, I realised the absurdity of what I was doing: an alarm clock in a hayfield, in the summer, with work to be done. Then the alarm went off.

Time-management failure
My father who, I suppose, had figured out what was going on, simply ignored the whole thing and continued making the big cock of hay he was constructing out of the little cocks of hay we had made the previous week.

And so, my first attempt at time management had ended in deserved failure.

My father was a farmer of a very traditional kind who set his time by the seasons and by the need for cows to be milked. He milked his cows in the morning and evening, he made sure he was there to do it, he sowed and harvested his crops at the time laid down by tradition and the weather. That was all the time management he needed.

Twenty years later, on a train journey in England, I was reading a book on time management when a man sitting opposite suddenly asked an unexpected question. “Why would you want to manage time?” He sounded cross and, having delivered his rhetorical question, he turned to study the countryside flashing past the window. He ignored me for the rest of the journey.

That is just as well because I did not have a ready answer to his question. It had never occurred to me that there might be any sort of doubt over the desirability of time management.

Today, time management is a more complicated affair. Even during the boom we complained about a new thing called “time poverty” when we thought we had money.

‘Time poverty’
Unfortunately, “time poverty” did not depart with the Celtic Tiger and it is doubtful if anybody, seeing a person reading a book on the subject today, would ask, “Why would you want to manage time?”

On the contrary, we seem to be in an era in which even “free” time has to be managed in the sense that if you don’t plan for a chunk of unhurried time in your week, you very likely won’t get it.

And it’s not all down to the economy. Now that we can no longer let children go off playing by themselves in the fields or the haybarn or the street, now that they must be kept under surveillance, it is almost impossible for parents to get free, unfettered time.

Today, nobody bats an eyelid if an alarm goes off on your phone. Yet the memory of that alarm clock in the hayfield still makes me blush.

Padraig O’Morain (pomorain@yahoo.com) is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His book, Light Mind – Mindfulness for Daily Living , is published by Veritas. His monthly mindfulness newsletter is available free by email.